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Could There Be a Gene for Insomnia?

Could There Be a Gene for Insomnia?

Do you find yourself having trouble sleeping at night? If you are like the millions of Americans who suffer from insomnia, you know more than anyone the effect sleep deprivation can have on your health. Well, what if I could say that you were not the one to blame? What if it was your genetics causing the problem?

It turns out, a recent study suggests that our genes may play a role in whether we have insomnia at night. The study was conducted by Florida Atlantic University researchers, who found that the sleep habits of fruit flies were remarkably similar to humans.  Like humans, fruit flies sleep at night, caffeine affects their sleep, and a lousy night’s rest can affect their memory performance. Furthermore, the new study was the first to identify a conserved gene, translin, that works as a modulator of sleep in response to metabolic changes.

Acute sleep loss is  typically associated with increased appetite and insulin insensitivity. Chronically sleep-deprived individuals are more likely to develop obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University established that translin is the essential integrator of sleep and metabolic rate. Understanding this gene will help individuals understand the reason behind their sleep deprivation. There are important implications for understanding the neural mechanism for underlying sleep deprivation in response to environmental challenges.

Alex C. Keene, Ph.D., corresponding author and associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences on FAU’s John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter, explained the results further:

“In humans, sleep and feeding are tightly interconnected, and pathological disturbances of either process are associated with metabolism-related disorders. Despite the widespread evidence for interactions between sleep loss and metabolic dysfunction, little is known about the molecular basis of this interaction and how these processes integrate within the brain.”

Fruit flies sleep less when they are hungry. They will often sacrifice sleep in order to search for food. This behavior is similar to humans who tend to have trouble sleeping on an empty stomach. Keen and his collaborators create various scenarios using the fruit flies to identify which gene affected their sleep and which gene did not.

The researchers carried out tests to identify the genes that kept the flies awake. They discovered, translin caused starving flies to sleep as soundly as they would on a full stomach. They also observed the same inability to sleep in starvation mode when the flies lacked the translin gene.

The fruit flies were placed on specific diets as the researchers measured their sleep, and glycogen, triglycerides and free glucose levels. They broke down the starvation response in the fruit flies into separate mechanisms for hunger and sleep-suppression.

“While many genes have been identified as genetic regulators of sleep or metabolic state, mounting evidence from our study indicates that translin functions as a unique integrator of these processes,” said Kazuma Murakami, co-first author and a Ph.D. student in the FAU/Max Planck Florida Institute Integrative Biology and Neuroscience (IBAN) program. “We also have been able to show that this gene is not required for general modulation of sleep. Furthermore, we now know that the energy stores in mutant flies are normal and that the starvation-induced sleep suppression phenotype is not due to increased nutrient storage.”

The results of the study reveal that translin is required to stimulate wakefulness in the absence of food. By understanding this, we know now that genes regulate certain sleep-feeding behaviors and control the express of certain sleep deprivation behaviors.

Understanding the translin gene may be able to help those who suffer from insomnia. Sleep is so important in the recovery from drug addiction as the body needs time to restore. If you are struggling in your recovery, it could be due to a variety of factors such as sleep deprivation.

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